Learning from Texas’ Shale Energy Experience

Thanks to techniques and technologies pioneered and perfected here in Texas, our state leads the nation in oil and gas production. This development has resulted in thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of revenue in the state, but it’s also had other significant impacts on the state’s communities and the environment.

What have we learned from this experience, and what remains unknown? A new report released June 19, 2017 by The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST), Environmental and Community Impacts of Shale Development in Texas, provides answers to these questions and lays out the next steps needed to help improve development and fill in the gaps in our knowledge.

The report focuses on six key areas: seismicity, land, air, water, transportation, and economic and social impacts

The report is the first state-level effort of its kind, and was guided by a spirit of investigation, collaboration, and transparency. The report is a review of existing peer-reviewed scientific literature on the impacts of shale oil and gas development in Texas, and followed at the state level the same processes used by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to produce scholarly, peer-reviewed reports.

This effort started with a statement of task drafted by myself and proposed to the TAMEST Board. TAMEST then assisted with securing support from The Cynthia and George and Mitchell Foundation and appointing task force members. With Board approval for remaining funding from TAMEST, the task force began work in December 2015.

The task force membership came from seven Texas universities, two oil and gas companies, one non-governmental organization, and three Texas agencies. These task force members represented broad technical knowledge and experience, and a variety of perspectives. With continued dedication, they kept focus on the scope and goals defined in the original statement of task to produce a report that spells out findings and recommendations based on the science underlying shale development and its impacts.

The following appears in the opening pages of the report:

“Suitable hydraulic fracturing technology applied multiple times in long horizontal wells has ledto an ability to profitably produce vast shale gas and tight oil resources. Adapting enablingtechnologies developed and proven in Texas, the late George P. Mitchell led the way to theeconomic development of shale energy resources. The abundant oil and gas suppliesunleashed by shale development have generally led to lower cost electricity, heating, andgasoline for U.S. consumers. In addition to George Mitchell’s innovations, many other entitiesand individuals played important roles in promoting shale energy technologies and processes.The U.S. Department of Energy and the Gas Technology Institute (formerly the Gas ResearchInstitute), for example, played critical roles in technology development for shale resourcesstarting in the 1970s. These technologies have allowed Texas to lead the nation and, in turn,for the United States to compete for leadership in world in oil and natural gas production.

"The oil and gas industry in Texas accounts for an annual gross product of $473 billion, as wellas nearly 3.8 million jobs.  In addition to economic output and employment, shaledevelopment generates royalty payments to those who own the mineral interests.  In 2014alone, production in the Permian, Eagle Ford, and Haynesville shale play areas accounted formore than $27 billion in royalty payments to private landowners or more than two-thirds ofthe royalties from America’s leading shale oil and gas plays.” 

When the task force was first proposed in 2014, the oil price hovered at $100 per barrel. The overwhelming success in shale oil and natural gas production led by Texas changed the U.S. from a net hydrocarbon importer to an exporter of both crude oil and natural gas. However, the success brought surpluses, first natural gas, and later oil, and subsequent drops in price.

A question for today is whether the U.S. tight oil and shale gas production is sustainable at half or less the price-point that drove technology developments that led to current capabilities. Sustainability requires precisely the elements addressed in the TAMEST task force report: social conscience, environmental stewardship, and economic viability.

Shale oil and gas development will likely continue for decades to come in Texas and other parts of the world. It’s critical to share our experience and leverage what we’ve learned. We hope this report can help Texans and other states and nations enhance the positive impacts of shale development while reducing or mitigating negative ones.  

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Dr. Christine Ehlig-Economides serves as chair of The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST) Shale Task Force. Dr. Economides is a professor and the Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Chair in the Cullen College of Engineering’s Petroleum Engineering Department at the University of Houston. She is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and TAMEST. She is the recipient of several awards, including the SPE Anthony F. Lucas Gold Medal, Distinguished Achievement Award for Petroleum Engineering Faculty, and Lester C. Uren, Innovative Teaching, and Formation Evaluation Awards. She received her Ph.D. from Stanford University.

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Editor's Note: The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST), Environmental and Community Impacts of Shale Development in Texas, is funded with support from the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation.  

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Editor's note: The views expressed by contributors to the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation's blogging initiative, "Can Texas's approach to sustainability inform a path forward for the U.S.?," are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the foundation. The foundation works as an engine of change in both policy and practice, supporting high-impact projects at the nexus of environmental protection, social equity, and economic vibrancy. Follow the foundation on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for regular updates from the foundation.

 

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